Evidence of meeting #34 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was need.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Mr. Mayes.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses for being here today.

It was interesting; in the Post this morning there was an article that talked about how engineers are still in demand at tech start-ups, but so are designers.

The interesting thing to me was the statement made here:

The new breed of “user experience” designers—part sketch artist, part programmer, with a dash of behavioural scientist thrown in—are some of the most sought after employees in technology.

Really this is about identifying the gift, identifying the skill. I'm just wondering, first, how you do that.

With that, your fifth recommendation here is to launch an “own the podium” style of campaign for digital economy skills. We identified the gifts of the athletes, or the sports department did, and then they funded them. You just can't give the money to everyone.

I just wondered how you could put that model together. Does your industry identify gifted students, whether coming up through the high school or university stage? And then how do you deal with that?

5:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills

David Ticoll

If we're going to really transform the career choices young people make in this field, we need to make a sustained investment as a country. We did some work over the past six months, as I talked about in my presentation, but it's the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be done. We had some government funding for this, but it is over now and we hope we can get some more. We are supported by HRSDC, among others, Ontario, and Quebec, but it's a big enterprise.

You gave the example of the digital designer. That's another example of a mashed-up career. There's a huge variety of them. So the approach we think we should take—and it has worked for us with these 10,000 kids we work with—is that it's really up to your imagination. Take whatever you imagine you can do and hybridize it in some way with technology.

We need those kinds of added incentive programs—scholarships, identification of stars and leaders. If you have an “own the podium” type of campaign, you bring in smarter marketing designer minds than mine to do that kind of imaginative work you're talking about. That certainly needs to be a part of it.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

I guess you're asking government to participate, but the benefactor of the people you get is the industry. How do you see that working back to...?

5:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills

David Ticoll

It creates a more robust economy for the whole country. It increases employment. It increases national competitiveness. Industry is certainly prepared to pay and is playing its part financially. The work we've done has all been co-funded. The majority of the spending on the work we've done has been from industry.

The “own the podium” campaign was the same. It was a public-private partnership. That's what we need. If industry is not at the table, it's not going to work. It won't have credibility. We won't get the real stories about what those careers really are. We have 100 volunteers from industry, most of them from our membership, who we're sending into the schools. They're telling their own stories. It's that gritty reality that brings it to life. If you're going to do that, you need to have some skin in the game financially, obviously.

We've demonstrated that we can do this. We need a signal now from the public system. One of the biggest problems we have—and I know this is outside of the federal jurisdiction and we have to find a way to quarterback this—is that a lot of teachers and guidance counsellors are still in the old narrative. They don't understand how this field has changed. We can't do it by sending volunteers into schools. We need to get it right into the high school curriculum in all subjects, not just guidance.

There are many layers to this. As we like to say in the tech industry, we need to build an ecosystem around this sort of game plan for national global leadership in the knowledge economy.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

There is the training and getting the labour resources, but there is also what I call a business landscape or a corporate landscape that the government helps to build. We have brought the corporate taxes down to the lowest in the G-7. We've kept personal income taxes down. We're trying to set a climate here for investment and retaining people.

What do you see as the number one issue that causes the leakage of those leaving Canada and going to other opportunities, and what can be done? Are you not paying enough to those people, or does this country not offer enough advantages tax-wise?

5:10 p.m.

Director, Government Relations, Research in Motion

Morgan Elliott

Having experienced working in different countries, Canada is a great place to do business. The tax rate, while it could always be lower, is also very advantageous.

Some of the changes made regarding R and D, especially as that relates to large corporations, was a little bit different in terms of what was in the budget. We were a little bit surprised with what we saw in there, but in terms of what makes people leave Canada or leave different areas, again, it's one of those multi-faceted questions around which you need the ecosystem in order to solve it.

Karna mentioned earlier in his comments that, just like in movies or music, there are rock star technologists that people will actually follow into different areas, so if you can get that one person interested in your technology.... For example, we have a gentleman at RIM who was responsible for writing GSM. That's one of the world's global standards. He is an American, and we brought him up to Waterloo. He has 400 or 500 people that he recruited from all over the world, who wanted to work with him because he was the world leader. So that's one of the reasons as well.

What you may find, surprisingly, is that wages aren't always the most motivating factor for the younger generation coming up. They want to be part of something and they want to be creating something. They want to be seen as adding value.

There is not one easy solution. It's creating that ecosystem from being in the schools, showing kids what they could do with maths and sciences, and in other areas too. We don't just need maths and sciences. We need people with global business skills as well that might lie outside of engineering skills. That's another area that I haven't mentioned, which is a key skill gap that we always look for. Then you move into the universities and the co-ops.

So as David said, it's an ecosystem that you need to solve the problem. But some of the underlying things that you might think cause people to move don't necessarily hold true in the ICT sector, which is different.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Because of your sector and the fact that it's moving, would you say its primary employees are younger, and you're not going to be affected by the baby boomers going through or have labour shortages because of the aging population?

5:15 p.m.

Director, Government Relations, Research in Motion

Morgan Elliott

I'm an old guy at RIM. There is some element of that.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

That's what I meant. You are not seeing those stresses that other sectors are seeing because of the aging population, are you?

5:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada

Karna Gupta

It is extremely critical that we pay attention to what I would label as top talent. The technology workforce is highly mobile and the separation of economics between a developing country and a developed country is slowly disappearing for that class of people. They can migrate just about anywhere.

If you go back to India, today they are not only hiring low-skilled people, they actually come to Boston to hire people from Harvard. The top talent is highly mobile, and unless we find a way to tackle that piece of it so that we attract the top talent here, in a world market, it is very hard to build an ecosystem that is going to sustain and grow over time. We're constantly playing catch-up, and young people tend to gravitate toward those few people who are world renowned.

Our kids try to go to good schools, like MIT. Why do we send them there, other than the brand name? It is because they will bump into the 14 Nobel laureates who are teaching there. That is sometimes the attraction, and in the technology sector, this is very critical. To draw the younger talent you must have the top talent available. Without that, the young kids are not going to come.

As Morgan mentioned, when half of the graduating class coming out of Waterloo ends up in Silicon Valley with whichever company takes them, how many do you think come back?

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you, Mr. Mayes. Your time is up.

We will conclude with the splitting of time between Mr. Cleary and Mr. Lapointe. Go ahead. You can split it however you wish, and we'll conclude when you are both done, but no later than 5:30.

April 23rd, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses.

I have a question for you, Mr. Ticoll.

Your quote in your presentation is that tech careers now are very different from the boring, geeky images of yesterday. I'm just wondering what adjectives you'd use today to describe the industry, and to describe people who work in the industry.

You can all have a hand in this.

If you asked my 16-year-old son, he'd probably say, “They're sick, Dad”, but you could take that in two ways. What adjectives would you use?

This will lead into my second question.

5:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills

David Ticoll

Coming back to our research, we surveyed these high school students and we found a correlation between the following terms and those who were interested in a career in this field. There was a high correlation and this is in rank order. Those kids who tended to think that this field is interesting, fun, cool, creative, and social are the ones who are most likely to think they're going to want to pursue a career in this field.

We would argue that the kinds of careers we're talking about have those attributes, but a lot of people don't know that.

So that would be the package of descriptors for today's ICT career: interesting, fun, cool, creative, and social. What I like about that is that cool is only number three, because cool has to do with what other people think of you, in a way. Interesting and fun have to do with what you are getting out of it.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

I think “cool” would definitely resonate with my kids.

In terms of image makeover, in terms of spreading the new narrative, as you describe it, and taking that narrative nationally and building this ecosystem that you talk about, that's going to take money and someone would have to spearhead it.

When you talk about building an ecosystem in schools, that's an advertising campaign. There would be all kinds of different layers to that onion, but who takes the lead? Who spearheads that?